Hidden Hunger: The perils of micro nutrient deficiency among urban kids




Hidden hunger, also known as micronutrient deficiencies, afflicts more than 2 billion individuals, or one in three people, globally. Hidden hunger is a form of under-nutrition that occurs when intake and absorption of vitamins and minerals (such as zinc, iodine, and iron) are too low to sustain good health and development. While undernourishment is clinically evident in impoverished children living in rural areas, malnutrition is the “hidden hunger” in an urban setting. We may think that infants are eating healthy but they may not be consuming the required amount of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis, which may be the primary reason for their nutritional deficiencies. According to National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau of India, over 50% of apparently healthy-looking children have sub clinical and biochemical deficiencies of micro-nutrients (like Vit A, B2, B12, vit C, iron, trace minerals like iodine, zinc, etc). Increasing dietary diversity by providing foods with adequate amounts of micro-nutrients is one of the most effective ways to prevent hidden hunger.

Hidden Hunger: The perils of micro nutrient deficiency among urban kids

Hidden Hunger: The perils of micro nutrient deficiency among urban kids

Shrouded symptoms of micronutrient deficiencies at an early stage

The percent ideal body weight index does not seem to be an adequate measure of nutritional status in children. In some cases, malnutrition is very mild and does not present any symptoms. Moreover, malnutrition can develop over a long period of time, so the symptoms may not seem obvious in the beginning. Early detection of deficits in nutritional status may result in the adverse effects of malnutrition on height and weight, and possibly clinical status, being prevented.

Infants fed on daily diet lacking enough micro nutrients do not meet the requirements for overall physical and mental growth, say doctors

In India, mothers generally focus on the physical growth of a child and not overall brain development and immunity levels. Diet normally followed in Indian households are rich in macro-nutrient supporting only physical growth but lack in micro nutrients essential for overall mental and brain development.  This translates to the fact that the child with normal height and weight may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency, which parents are not aware of. Gaps in daily nutrition with unsatisfactory nutritional quality results in nutrient deficiencies to set in at an early age.

Adequate nutrition planning by parents in early years is essential to complement child development

Micro-nutrients are a group of nutrients which are required in trace amounts for normal growth and development. Micro-nutrient deficiency is often referred to as “Hidden Hunger” because it develops gradually over time, their devastating impact not seen until it leaves behind irreversible damage. Millions of children suffer from stunted growth, cognitive delays, weakened immunity and infections because of micronutrient deficiencies. Primary food, therefore, must be nutrition dense as the need for nutrients are not fulfilled by mother’s milk after 6 months, making Infants susceptible to nutritional deficiency.

Eating patterns built during childhood serve as a foundation for life. More than 1/3rd of child deaths occurring annually, around the world, are attributed to malnutrition, specifically under-nutrition, which weakens the body’s resistance to illness. If a child is malnourished during the first 1000 days of life, the child’s physical and mental growth and development is slowed. This cannot be corrected when the child is older – it affects the child for the rest of his or her life. Fulfilling the micronutrient requirements of infants should be addressed on a priority basis, with parents and caretakers sitting up to the fact that a healthy and nutritious diet for infant is a requisite, not occasionally, but daily.

With micronutrients producing significant public health benefits, nutrition plays a vital role in the holistic development of a child. Moreover, good nutrition signifies a food which is a powerhouse of micronutrients.

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